The secret behind playing small ball poker isn’t so much in the hands you choose to play. It’s more about the amount you choose to bet with the hands you end up playing.
In this column, we’ll examine three basic small ball poker betting strategies.
Larger Raises Against Tougher Players
You shouldn’t vary your raise size based on your own hand strength but I’m all for changing your bet based on your opponent’s skill level.
Let’s say you’re sitting at a tight, easy table with only one player who is highly skilled. If you raise his big blind, he’ll defend a high percentage of the time and will force you to play a pot with him after the flop.
Why play a pot against the toughest player at the table?
If you want him out of the hand, increase the size of your raise – as much as four or five times the big blind. You’ll also confuse other players because there is no apparent reason why you’re raising more on this particular hand.
There’s another reason to make a big raise against a tough competitor: It will help define his hand. A raise of just 2 ½ times the blind won’t allow you to gauge his strength. Since he’s likely to make that call, you’ll still be in the dark after the flop; that’s not how you want to play against a skilled competitor.
On the other hand, you can make smaller raises against weaker players. Less skilled players are more prone to make mistakes after the flop. That tendency to make late stage errors more than outweighs what you give up by not defining their hands with a large pre-flop raise.
More Action for Less Money
The biggest benefit of playing an aggressive yet small betting style is that you’ll get more action on your strong hands while risking fewer chips.
Let’s say you finally pick up a premium hand like pocket aces. If you’ve just raised three of the last four hands, your opponents may suspect you’re now attempting to steal the blinds with a trash hand. A player with pocket sevens may even decide to reraise figuring he has the best hand and can get you to lay down your hand.
But when you reraise him again before the flop, he’ll be confused by your wild image and just might make the call. After having raised all those previous hands, he might fail to distinguish between your pre-flop raises and your pre-flop reraises.
Be careful, though. The reraise steal isn’t generally a play that works all that well if you have a wild image. For the most part, if you plan to raise a reraise, make sure you have the goods!
Call Rather Than Reraise Pre-Flop
Now, if you are one of the better players at the table, you’ll want to make most of your difficult decisions after the flop, not before. So just call a pre-flop reraise.
I seldom reraise before the flop no matter what my hand is. By so doing, I’m able to disguise the strength of my hand and can trap unsuspecting opponents who interpret my smooth call as a sign of weakness.
This tactic is especially effective against players who overplay their pre-flop hands. For example, against a player who likes to reraise with hands like 9-9, A-K or A-Q, avoid reraising pre-flop with anything but the best of hands. Even with hands like pocket jacks or queens, or even A-K, it’s often better to see a flop first than to reraise.
Against these types of players, reraising pre-flop with any marginal hand only plays to their advantage while neutralizing your substantial edge in post-flop play.
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